Minh Nga Nguyen
Bamboo biochar holds renewable potential with hope for world health
Minh Nga Nguyen from Sydney Girls’ High School is a finalist in BHP’s lucrative Science and Engineering Awards. She’s created a ‘biochar’ – a filter for water that doubles as plant fertiliser, made from recycled plant waste. We love the way Minh’s research combines her love of science and building a smarter future, so we asked her to tell us more about it.
Tell us about your project for BHP.
My project formed a model of application in which agricultural plant wastes are recycled into a multipurpose biochar charcoal, that can filter wastewater and fertilise plants. I found that by bamboo biochar filter packs could remove 45.6% of harmful pollutants in wastewater, lowering pollutant content to meeting Australian guidelines.
The bamboo biochar can also be again recycled into an effective plant fertiliser. My project’s findings have the potential for application in the agricultural industry, allowing farmers to recover polluting plant wastes and turn it into biochar used to treat livestock wastewater, as well as aid crop growth.
What inspired you to create biochar?
I chose to create biochar as in Australia, we have a large agricultural industry that critically supports our economy and workforce, but simultaneously produces large quantities of agricultural waste products. These waste products pollute our environment, and so I was interested in how we could prevent [this from happening]. Recycling these plant byproducts into biochar wastewater filters is one way to do it, with land waste [being used to prevent] water pollution.
Our natural resources are finite, and we must conserve them in any way possible for future generations. Biochar is a sustainable product, as it recovers plant byproducts that are continually produced in farming practices, and that are in high abundance.
Do you explore science outside of school?
I study science in my own time, as a hobby. I find undertaking science experiments in my own time [is part of] being an active global citizen, by providing potential solutions to pertinent environmental issues of our time.
If you could invent anything, what would it be?
If I had limitless money and time I would invent a simple portable wastewater filter made from natural materials that is able to provide clean drinking water.
Currently, so many people have to drink unsafe and contaminated water, causing health problems and diseases, and even death. If I could invent a cheap way of providing safe water using natural materials, such as from plants this would minimise the risk of health issues such as cholera.
What’s your advice for next year’s aspiring BHP competitors?
Plan what you are going to do; I found splitting my project into three distinct components to assist me with writing my project and also organising how I was going to proceed.
What does your future hold?
In the future, I hope to study environmental engineering and science. I am interested in studying degrees with a base in research, such as a Bachelor of Advanced Science or a Bachelor of Philosophy in Science at ANU.